Kurdish author and human rights lawyer Burhan Sönmez is the new president of PEN International

The Kurdish author and human rights lawyer Burhan Sönmez has been elected as the new president of the writers' association PEN International.

The Kurdish author and human rights lawyer Burhan Sönmez is the new president of the writers' association PEN-International. The election of the 56-year-old by the assembly of delegates took place on Friday as part of the congress for the 100th anniversary of the international authors' association. After his election, Sönmez said: “I thank my fellow PEN members for entrusting me with PEN’s future - an honour and a responsibility that I recognise and will keep in my mind and heart as I fill the role of President of our noble organisation. As the new President of PEN International I feel proud to have been in the line of great people of literature and freedom like Catherine Amy Dawson Scott, Jennifer Clement, Per Wastberg, John Ralston Saul, H.G. Wells, Arthur Miller and Heinrich Böll.”

Sönmez succeeds Mexican-American author Jennifer Clement, the first woman president, who headed the association for six years.

Born in Turkey, Burhan Sönmez studied law in the years following the 1980 military coup. He was arrested and interrogated at the Istanbul Gayrettepe Police Headquarters, a notorious torture centre, for organising the first student action during martial law. As a lawyer working on human rights cases, he became the target of police harassment and the centre of court cases, which led him to go into exile in the United Kingdom, where he received long-term treatment with the help of the British organization Freedom from Torture.

During this time, Sönmez started writing novels, inspired by the traditional stories he heard while growing up in a remote village in central Turkey. His acclaimed works North (Kuzey, 2009), Sins & Innocents (Masumlar, 2011), Istanbul Istanbul (2015), Labyrinth (Labirent, 2018), and Stone and Shadow (Taş ve Gölge, 2021), have been translated into forty-two languages.

Sönmez is the recipient of the EBRD Literature Prize (2018), the Disturbing the Peace Award (2017), the BUYAZ Best Story Honour Prize (2015), the Sedat Simavi Literature Prize (2011), and the Izmir St. Joseph Best Novel Award (2011).

He was lecturer in Literature and Novel at the University of METU, a member of the judging panel for the 2014 Cevdet Kudret Literature Prize and for the 2020 Geneva International Film Festival.

The founder of TAKSAV, the Foundation for Social Research, Culture and Art, Sönmez is a member of English PEN, Kurdish PEN and PEN Turkey, and a former member of the board of directors of PEN International.

PEN: Poets, essayists, novelists

The authors' association PEN was founded on 5 October 1921 by English writer Catherine Amy Dawson Scott in London. The association deals with the promotion of international literature and advocates freedom of speech and expression. During the Nazi era, its support for persecuted German-speaking writers was of great importance.